Stephen Freedman and colleagues performed a cost analysis of the routine administration of ondansetron in both the United States and Canada and show that its routine administration to eligible children in such settings could provide substantial benefit.
The use of antiemetics for children with vomiting is one of the most controversial decisions in the treatment of gastroenteritis in developed countries. Ondansetron, a selective serotonin receptor antagonist, has been found to be effective in improving the success of oral rehydration therapy. However, North American and European clinical practice guidelines continue to recommend against its use, stating that evidence of cost savings would be required to support ondansetron administration. Thus, an economic analysis of the emergency department administration of ondansetron was conducted. The primary objective was to conduct a cost analysis of the routine administration of ondansetron in both the United States and Canada.
Methods and Findings
A cost analysis evaluated oral ondansetron administration to children presenting to emergency departments with vomiting and dehydration secondary to gastroenteritis from a societal and health care payer's perspective in both the US and Canada. A decision tree was developed that incorporated the frequency of vomiting, intravenous insertion, hospitalization, and emergency department revisits. Estimates of the monetary costs associated with ondansetron use, intravenous rehydration, and hospitalization were derived from administrative databases or emergency department use. The economic burden in children administered ondansetron plus oral rehydration therapy was compared to those not administered ondansetron employing deterministic and probabilistic simulations. We estimated the costs or savings to society and health care payers associated with the routine administration of ondansetron. Sensitivity analyses considered variations in costs, treatment effects, and exchange rates. In the US the administration of ondansetron to eligible children would prevent approximately 29,246 intravenous insertions and 7,220 hospitalizations annually. At the current average wholesale price, its routine administration to eligible children would annually save society US$65.6 million (US$49.1–US$81.1) and health care payers US$61.1 million (US$46.2–US$76.3). In Canada the administration of ondansetron to eligible children would prevent 4,065 intravenous insertions and 1,003 hospitalizations annually. Its routine administration would annually save society CDN$1.72 million (CDN$1.15–CDN$1.89) and the health care system CDN$1.18 million (CDN$0.88–CDN$1.41).
In countries where intravenous rehydration is often employed, the emergency department administration of oral ondansetron to children with dehydration and vomiting secondary to gastroenteritis results in significant monetary savings compared to a no-ondansetron policy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Although many episodes of gastroenteritis in children are mild and can be managed with oral fluids, including oral rehydration therapy (ORT), some cases are severe enough to require hospital admission for intravenous fluids. Administration of an antiemetic (a drug that reduces nausea and sickness) can be clinically effective, especially ondansetron, (a drug that belongs to a class of drugs known as selective serotonin receptor antagonists), which is safer than other antiemetics, such as promethazine and prochlorperazine, and in which there is good evidence to support its effectiveness in improving the success of ORT in children with gastroenteritis. Furthermore, studies have shown that administration of ondansetron decreases the risk of further vomiting, and hence the need for intravenous rehydration, and immediate hospital admission. However, despite the proven clinical benefits of ondansetron, clinical practice guidelines continue to recommend against the use of antiemetics in gastroenteritis because the evidence of cost savings is not yet clear. Last year, the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommended that such a cost analysis should be a key research priority in pediatric gastroenteritis.
Why Was This Study Done?
This study—which is an economic analysis—was conducted in response to the various calls for the need to demonstrate the cost effectiveness of ondansetron in the management of pediatric gastroenteritis.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analysed the costs of the administration of oral ondansetron in both the US and Canada, if routinely given to children with gastroenteritis-induced vomiting and dehydration in the emergency department setting. In addition, the researchers calculated the incremental cost of ondansetron per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained from a health care perspective, compared to a regimen without ondansetron administration. The authors conducted a particular type of statistical analysis, known as decision tree analysis, to compare the two treatment options—administering ondansetron and not administering ondansetron in addition to ORT, with the clinical outcomes (further vomiting, intravenous rehydration, and hospitalization) determined on the basis of the documented efficacy of ondansetron. In addition, the researchers conducted their analyses from both the societal perspective (which included all costs, both direct—the resources required to produce a service; and indirect—productivity costs) and the health care payer's perspective. The US and Canada use similar medical resources, management programs, and treatment guidelines, but as prices differ dramatically (for example, the cost of hospitalization in the US is 8-fold higher than that in Canada), the researchers conducted a separate analysis for each country.
On the basis of data from the US, the researchers found that the administration of ondansetron to eligible children would prevent approximately 29,246 intravenous insertions and 7,220 hospitalizations every year with an annual saving of US$65.6 million to society and US$61.1 million to payers of health care costs if this drug was given routinely. When using Canadian data, the researchers found that the administration of ondansetron to eligible children would prevent 4,065 intravenous insertions and 1,003 hospitalizations every year, with an annual saving of CDN$1.72 million to society and CDN$1.18 million to payers of health care costs if this drug was given routinely.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results of this study show that the emergency department administration of oral ondansetron to children with dehydration and vomiting secondary to gastroenteritis results in significant monetary savings from both societal and health care perspectives compared to a policy that does not include ondansetron administration. Furthermore, the societal savings are probably an underestimate because in their model, the researchers assumed that only 10% of children with gastroenteritis presenting to an emergency department would meet eligibility criteria (in reality, this proportion would likely be higher). In addition, the researchers did not include estimates for ondansetron administration in the clinic or private office setting, as although such use is common, no estimates of eligibility and efficacy were available.
Therefore, in addition to being clinically beneficial, the administration of oral ondansetron to children with dehydration and vomiting secondary to gastroenteritis is also economically advantageous.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000350.
Patient UK and the US National Institutes of Health provide information for patients on ondansetron
Patient UK provides information on gastroenteritis in children
BBC Health also provides general information on gastroenteritis
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contains a report on managing acute gastroenteritis among children